Which Costume Designer Will Win Oscars Gold? (Analysis)

Costume Designers Roundtable - H 2014
Joe Pugliese

A Costume Designers Guild win can mean an Oscar win, too. And now that nominees are announced, period piece contenders continue to have a leg up.

The Costume Designers Guild nominees for the upcoming 16th Annual CDG Awards were announced on Wednesday. And since the guild also votes on Oscar nominees, a CDG win can often translate to an Oscar win, as was the case last year when Jaqueline Durran won the CDG award for her costumes in the period film Anna Karenina and proceeded to capture Oscar gold.

Unlike the Academy Awards, which lumps costume design into one category, giving shorter shrift to more familiar-to-the-eye modern costumed films, the CDG separates their awards in order to pay homage to excellence in period, contemporary and fantasy films. But historically, only period films tend to win an Oscar, with contemporary costume design getting especially short shrift. So don’t be surprised to see the majority of the CDG nominees in the contemporary category not continuing down the awards-season route when the Academy Awards nominations come out on Jan. 16.

Last year, only four films were Oscar nominated for best costume design and two were for period (Les Miserables, Lincoln) and two fantasy (Mirror, Mirror; Snow White and the Huntsman).

STORY: Costume Designers Guild Unveils Award Nominations 

The trend already looks to be continuing this year. Four out of the five Critics Choice nominees for costume design having done period pieces: Michael Wilkinson for American Hustle, Catherine Martin for The Great Gatsby, Patricia Norris for 12 Years a Slave and Daniel Orlandi for Saving Mr. Banks. (The 5th Critics Choice nom was for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’s Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor).

Norris, Wilkinson, Martin and Orlandi are definitely frontrunners for Oscar noms this year, so it was no surprise to see them nominated today. On top of that, Wilkinson, Martin and Orlandi all earned BAFTA noms as well today. But it would be quite something for Norris to win this year. The octagenarian, whose attention to detail on 12 Years was so strong that she sprinkled dirt from each plantation on the bottom of the women’s dresses, already has five Oscar nods from 1978-1989 (Elephant Man, Days of Heaven, Victor Victoria, Sunset, 2010) but no win. And did we mention that she already won the CDG’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007?

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In the fantasy realm, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s Trish Summerville, another frontrunner, got a boost today with a CDG nomination in that category (along with the Smaug team and Oz: The Great and Powerful’s Gary Jones and Michael Kutsche).

In the contemporary realm, three designers stand out this year. Blue Jasmine costume designer Suzy Benzinger has received a lot of attention for a disheveled Chanel suit that telegraphs Cate Blanchett’s damaged and disintegrating psyche. Benzinger worked with Woody Allen on Celebrity (1996), Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Whatever Works (2009). She’s a newbie to the CDG, and the nod is long overdue.

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Another CDG film newcomer is Spike Jonze’s Her costume designer Casey Storm, another strong contender in the contemporary arena for his short-collared, high-waisted futuristic aesthetic. And he’s been on the CDG radar for some time, having won two awards for his TV milk commercial work in 2009 and 2010. Storm has even released a high-waisted pant with high-fashion boutique Opening Ceremony inspired by star Joaquin Phoenix’s attire in the film.

Even so, we’re gonna go with Consolata Boyle to win a CDG. Her subtly emotional work in Philomena, the story of a determined British woman (Judi Dench) searching for her lost out-of-wedlock son, is a powerful entry. Boyle was nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and won a CDG for her work in The Queen (2007).

Among the surprises are that neither Mary Zophres, who’s gained a lot of attention for her designs for Inside Llewyn Davis, nor three-time Oscar winner and Wolf of Wall Street designer Sandy Powell nabbed CDG nominations this year.  And this year Colleen Atwood, who, like Powell, has also won three Oscars, doesn’t have a horse in the race.

Which could mean that this year’s Oscar for best costume designer is anyone’s to win.